Into Japan

April 8, 2010 - Osaka, Japan

10 Reasons why Japan is cool

1 - The toilet seats are heated and splash water up yer bum

2 - The vending machines sell beer

3 - The beer is decent

4 - The trains are super, speedy fast

5 - It's clean

6 - The food is so good...they can even make cabbage taste amazing

7 - The telly is hilarious, even if ye dinny understand what they are saying

8 - Naebody spits on the pavement

9 - It's very pretty with all the blossom trees

10 - The people are polite, courteous, generous and friendly.

Seriously folks Japan is an absolutely brilliant place. I've been tae some pretty guid countries in my time - the USA, Australia, even Ireland - and I have tae say Japan is so far just aboot pipping them all. It's wacky, weird, funny, lively, bright. It's like some kind o cartoon land. It's like the anti-China. Man I'm glad we came here last. Noo lets just revisit that last point above there. The people are polite, courteous, generous and friendly - and let me gie ye a couple o examples o that. We went intae a wee bakers shop the other day there for a wee savoury snack and the woman just aboot fell owr herself trying tae get roond the counter tae gie us two free custard buns. We were standing wi oor rucksacks on in the train station looking a bit puzzled trying tae figure oot which platform we were supposed tae be on and this fella came over and asked if we were ok. When we explained oor dilemma he not only went owr and asked at the information desk for us, but came back and walked us tae the platform by way of directing us. It's all really very humbling. So wi' the Japanese being the way they are - it is quite impossible tae reconcile this culture with the one that so viciously waged war on this region in the first half of the last century. We aw ken the stories: Rape of Nanking, Pearl Harbour, Burma Railway etc. Wicked stuff. These are surely a very different people now. It disny even really seem fair tae bring it up. I only mention it because we've had the chance this last week tae visit two of the most infamous cities in recent Japanese history, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. They pack a punch let me tell ye. How did it come tae that Japan? I've nae idea. I do ken this though, plodding roond the museums in them two cities is a flipping grim experience.

Onyway, lets go back a bit first. We arrive in Japan on Tuesday, from Beijing via Seoul, in a place called Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. No an obvious starting point I'll grant ye but, as I mentioned in the last blog entry, it wis the cheapest flight we could get tae Japan. We get intae town nae bother on the metro fae the airport and then get a bit lost looking for the hotel. Addresses are weird in Japan. I still havny quite figured oot how they work. Onyway a fella at the reception in another hotel draws a wee diagram on a map for me and it turns oot tae be right across the road. So Fukuoka turns oot tae be no a bad wee place. Apparently it's established itsel recently as an important gateway town between...em....other places roond aboot. Probly. So theres a big modern shopping zone in a place called Canal City in the city centre wi a veritable plethora o decent restaurants roond aboot and we head intae one o these, a vietnamese, because it has an English menu and disny look too pricey. It is braw and there is a Japanese retirement-do going on which makes interesting viewing. Anyway, that takes care o Japanesey day one.

Day two we head for the city's art gallery as it is pretty much chucking doon wi rain and spend a pleasant couple o hours shuffling roond that. By the time we come oot, the rain is aff so we wander roond the city's old castle remains - just the foundations left really but it's a pretty enough site in a big park wi all blossom trees aboot the place. At night we decide tae sample a Fukuoka specialty, Ramen. This is pretty much just a bowl o noodles in a pork broth. What ye dae is ye buy a wee ticket afore ye go in and then sit in a wee booth roond a central kitchen area. In yer booth ye fill in a wee form explaining how ye want yer noodles done, how spicy ye want yer sauce, how strong ye want yer onions etc and, when yer ready, ye ring a wee buzzer and a hand pokes through fae the kitchen intae yer booth and takes yer ticket and form. Two minutes later the hand fires ye through yer bowl (and a beer for us) then pulls doon a shutter and leaves ye tae get wired intae yer tasty, tasty noodles. Smashing. We head back tae the hotel well satisfied wi that.

Noo remember me saying in the Beijing entry that we sorted oot train passes for Japan? Well here's where we start getting oor money's worth. We can pretty much travel anywhere in Japan on the train noo for the next three weeks. And since the trains are magic and go pretty much everywhere - this gies us quite a bit o freedom tae get aboot the place. So Nagasaki is aboot two hours on the train west fae Fukuoka and on Thursday we decide tae take a wee day trip and go hae a look at it. Train zips us doon there bang on schedule and so - here we are - Nagasaki. We head up tae a district called Urakami as we've decided tae get the bomb stuff oot the way first - and I'll tell ye aboot that later. Needless tae say it depresses us a bit so we get the hell oot o this part o town sharpish and head back doon on the tram intae the city centre again. We wander aboot for the rest o the day and what a braw place Nagasaki is. We check oot a couple o temples - cause we just havny seen enough o them - and then take a slow wander doon the side o the Nakashima-Gawa river which has loads o bridges over it including 'spectacles' bridge - Japan's oldest apparently. Bit piddling tae be honest. Anyway doon this end o the town theres a real cosmopolitan feel as Nagasaki was a trading port for the British, Portugese and Dutch back in the day apparently. Theres a pretty chilled vibe doon here. Away up on a hill there is a place called Glover Garden built aroond the hoose of a Scottish fella called Thomas Blake Glover who apparently came tae Nagasaki in the late 19th century, married a local lassie, made a few quid and then built a big estate. There are Saltires hanging up aboot the place and a painting of Fraserburgh which wis apparently where auld Tam G. came fae. What a cracking set o buildings and garden it is tae winding doon roond the hill back tae street-level. And what a view ye get fae the hoose up the hill. Picturesque wee place the Nagasaki, wee harbour town surrounded by hills. Anyway, no wanting tae miss the last train back tae Fukuoka, we just head back tae the train station and end up having a fairly dismal burger for tea. We dinny miss the train though. Which is good.

So, continuing oor tour o towns obliterated by atomic bombs, the next day we jump on the train again and head East ontae the island of Honshu and up the coast tae Hiroshima. We get the Shinkansen train this time which is just a lightning machine and gets us there in about an hour or so. It's a braw day, sunny and quite warm and a nice wee journey wi a glimpse here and there of the Inland Sea of Japan. We're staying in Hiroshima for 4 nights and we dinny dae much on the first day only wander aboot the shopping precincts looking for a bookshop so I can buy a Japanese History book. I eventually find a decent one in a department store and snap it up. For dinner we go for Okinomiyaki. Okiniomiyaki is fried pork, shrimp, squid and cabbage stuck between two pancakes and is a hell of a lot tastier than that description makes it sound. In actual facts it's really good. Ye have it wi mayonnaise and a thick soy sauce. Yummeroonie.

Next day we do bomb stuff - again I'll come back tae this if ye dinny mind - before heading intae the Hiroshima Museum of Art which has, obviously, a whole load of French Impressionist stuff. Some o it is fairly decent though. Eftir this we hae a wander roond Hiroshima Castle, which is alright I suppose. In the castle there are loads o scary samurai outfits and swords on display. Yikes. Widny wanty get intae a fight wi one o them fellas. Them samurai boys. Mental so they were. Slice yer heid aff for just looking at them funny. At night we go tae some Korean restaurant that wis recommended by oor guide book. We have tae take oor shoes off on the way in and sit on a mat at a wee table. Soon as ye walk in the whole place shouts 'WELCOME!' (in Korean...or mibbie Japanese). Superb. Noo what the book disny tell us is that there is nae English menu so I take a blind stab in the dark and order something under the 'pork' section. Jacs points tae a picture o some noodly dish. As luck would have it, mine turns oot tae be flipping tasty pork ribs and Jacs' is also much brawtastic. We is well chuffed wi oor Korean experiment and head back to the hotel all full-tummied and smiley-faced.

We get up early on Sunday and catch a tram tae the ferry port at Miyajima-guchi. Fae here we catch a ferry (for free thanks tae oor train pass) oot tae an island in the inland sea called Miyajima where we spend aboot as pleasant a Sunday afternoon as ye could possibly wish for. Miyajima is famous for having a 16th century shinto shrine called 'Itsukushima' which is built on stilts above the water out in a little bay. The shrine is a World Heritage site. There is a spectacular wooden gate oot in the sea in front o it. It is all very nifty. There is actually a little town built around this and a rather famous buddhist temple called Daisho-in up on a hill on the way up to Mount Misen, a buddhist holy site. This temple was established by a fella called Kukai who did for the spread of Buddhism in Japan what Xuanzang did for it in China. Remember Xuanzang? The fella that wrote Monkey (sort of)? Only Kukai managed tae dae it withoot killing any elephants as far as I know. Speaking o Monkeys there are apparently wild monkeys kicking aboot the place here but we dinny see any. We do however see plenty of wild deer which are just wandering aroond among the tourists stealing peoples chips. Crazy. Anyway, like I say what a very pleasant day it is wandering aroond among these buildings and Buddhas with sun shining and the cherry blossoms in full effect. Jings, Japan is a good looking place in the Spring. We find a restaurant selling Okinomiyaki and just have tae have that funky fried cabbage. Free ferry and train journey get us back to Hirsoshima chuffed and chilled-out. Great day. Great!

Monday we kind of bollocks things up because we are gonny go tae the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Gallery (prefectures are Japanese districts) which has Salvador Dali's Dream of Venus in it but - doh! - it's closed on Mondays. Never mind though behind it there is a wee Japanese garden that is a braw place tae spend a couple of hours just lazing aboot in the sunshine so we spend a couple of hours just lazing aboot in the sunshine. Day ends on a bum note because we go to this Irish Pub called Molly Malone's which oor guide book has recommended. All is going reasonable well in that I'm drinking Guinness for the first time in about six months and loving it, also watching footie and we've ordered food which oor book says is guid. It isny - it's shocking. I have, apparently, fresh-air pie and Jacs has some salty concoction they're passing off as spicy mackerel. Widny be sae bad if it didny cost us a flipping arm and a leg for the privelege. We're both a bit bummed oot by this and go home in the huff.

On Tuesday, we correct oor error of missing the gallery yesterday by checking oot oor hotel, stashing oor bags there and nipping along tae see it afore heading back for oor bags and cracking along tae the station tae catch the train tae oor next destination, Osaka. Gallery is no bad and Dali's Dreams of Venus seems like a pretty appropriate painting tae be hanging in Hiroshima, what with all it's melting clocks...

So....The Bomb then.

 So ye's aw ken what happened. Everybody in the World surely knows what happened tae these two towns coming on 65 years ago. Thing is, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are actually two cracking places tae visit. Hiroshima has good public parks, nice buildings and a river snaking through it and Nagasaki is a pretty port city sitting in a valley. Both have got a real chilled oot feel tae them. It is quite impossible to reconcile seeing these two cities as they look today with the images we all know of complete and utter destruction after those bombs went off. Theres nae getting away fae it either as, everywhere ye go, there are wee reminders. Ye can be enjoying a stroll through a park and get tae the end o it and there is a brass plaque with a picture of the wasteland that it was eftir the bombing. Yer admiring a building and a wee notice tells ye what used tae stand here but was completely obliterated by the bomb. It's everywhere. Ye keep seeing the same words....destroyed, obliterated, vaporised, decimated, incinerated. Puts a real downer on things. It's an eerie feeling looking at the charred faces of statues that survived standing ootside a rebuilt church in Nagasaki, or looking across the river at the jagged ruins o the benignly titled

Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall - otherwise known as The A Bomb Dome. And the museums! Talk aboot grim. They are both quite similar in that they show ye video footage o the bomb exploding as yer on yer way in and then ye have tae work yer way aroond a bunch o exhibits of things like - twisted clocks wi their hands frozen at the time o the bombings, melted bottles, clothes wi holes burned in them, deformed buddha statues, kids' bikes bent oot o recognition, a stone step with a dark smudge that was all that was left o a fella that wis sitting there. And then there are the photographs...wall-length photos of the city in ruins, pictures of people wi their skin dripping off or lying dying in the street while stunned rescue workers stand helpless, people dying o radiation sickness in the months afterwards and the numbers of cancers which continues to plague the cities. And those numbers....90,000 dead in an instant 50,000 more in the following 6 months. 70% of the city's buildings flattened. Jings it's brutal. Past all this stuff, in both places, their are some facts and figures on Japan's exploits before and during the war, info aboot the Manhattan project, pictures o the allied dudes - Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman etc - who debated and then decided, yes, they would use the bomb. As I walk past a picture o Robert Oppenheimer I can hear in my mind that chilling rendition he gave in an interview, as he recalled the first successful bomb test, o that line from the Hindu scripture: 'And now I am become Death, the destroyer of Worlds'.

There are scale replicas of the bombs themselves and models of the cities showing ye where the hypocentres were. It's actually all kind of interesting - but terribly sombre. Everybody in the place has the same, stony expression. Right at the end, and again this is in both places, there are some stats on Atomic Bombs generally and oddly hypnotic video footage of tests undertaken by the various nuclear powers. 2000+ tests since the 1940s! Can ye believe that? 2000+. That's insane. The Atomic Bomb. What a thing tae have in existence. Noo I dinny ken aboot the morality o the thing likes. Wis it necessary? Can something like this ever be necessary? I dinny have an opinion. It happened is all. Let me say this though...the main thing I came away fae Hiroshima and Nagasaki understanding is this...if we ever...that's us as a species likes....if we ever go tae war wi them things at any point in the future...then we're a' deid. They are wicked. I would urge anybody tae come here and absorb that. Ye absolutely get a sense o the scale o the destruction and it's quite incomprehensible. It just must never happen. Ever.

Noo I dinny want tae leave ye's on a bummer and, thankfully, neither do the A-bomb museums. Ye come oot o both of them intae lively, vibrant, pleasant cities and yer glad tae see them and people milling aboot in them. In Hiroshima ye walk along a corridor overlooking the Peace Park which is a huge, green public park full o monuments and memorials dedicated tae the pursuit of world peace and ye can see the handsome, rebuilt city behind it. As well as terrible reminders of the horrors of war, Nagasaki and Hiroshima are also testaments tae humanity's powers of recovery. They thought nothing would grow in either place for decades but there were fresh blossoms and buds on the trees in less than a year. Life recovers, folks. Always.




Tam Glover
Tam Glover's Hoose
McP's in Nagasaki
Nagasaki Harbour


elliot Mather:
April 9, 2010
Aw man, Japan sounds braw. I really want to go. Can I Nicky.....please...oh come on let me can come too....
Jacs McPherson:
April 9, 2010
Over you come. We will meet you in Tokyo. Also, it is suppose to be 21c
April 13, 2010
Hi Paul and Jax

Gillian and me are a Lbb for lunch. She can get into your blog, however Me and Gil are not so good on the computer, as you may weel know. She is going to show us what to do. A bit late, but better late than never. Love Eileen
April 14, 2010
well your wee trip to Japan has inspired gav and me so much that were are thinking of going over in July - is itr really expensive?? good to hear your both alive and well tho - enjoying the blog can you keep it going for the next 5 weeks as it is great disraction from the studying xx
April 14, 2010
That's done it. I now really really want tae go back to Japan. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Jacs McPherson:
April 14, 2010
Hi Julie
mmm, expensive??? Not necessarily. More along the lines of London/Edinburgh prices. Imagine eating out at home every day and you get the gist. Booze is expensive in bars but if you buy some from a booze shop for your hotel room, it will work out cheaper. But great for shopping. You could easily spend all your hard earned bucks here, easily. I have seen so many things for us both as well as for gifts. Our accommodation has been in hotels and reletively good ones and all for around £50 a night, on average. Ok, the rooms are small but adequate. Paul and I are not big people so it's fine. If you want more space, get a twin room and it is usually the same price as a semi-double - which is a queens size bed against the wall, a desk and a wee cubicle for the bathroom. We have had free broadband in every hotel and they have all been central and clean. No complaints. I probably miss the pub though. Cause we are on a budget, we haven't been out drinking apart for once. We went to a Irish bar for guinness and football and we managed to spend over £100 for 3 pints of black stuff, 3 half Kirin lagar and 2 shitty meals. Very shitty meals. So easily done. You just need to be cautious when buying anything. Baker/patisseries for breakfast is a great buget buster but not great for the waistband. But heyho, cannot have everything.
Anyway, personally I don't think you should come here until I can safe up enough pennies to come with you.
April 17, 2010
I was there standing beside you - a very moving blog!
May 18, 2010
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